Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If not the government's job, whose?

"A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God."

Thoughts from King Solomon, son of David, king of ancient Israel ... Proverbs 14: 30-31 (NIV)

What springs to mind as I read those words is that for many years I have argued that charity is not the work of government. Public-sector schemes to redistribute wealth are based on envy - punishing achievement based on an envious and false belief that great wealth is inevitably ill-gotten. But

it is not enough to say it's an improper use of government power. Yes, seizing citizens' personal assets in the name of helping the needy is wrong - government is a tool for tasks that require force, but it is an unwieldy and inefficient institution for feeding the hungry. Private charities and individual help have always managed to feed, clothe and shelter people faster and better than government can.

But again, it is not enough to make that philosophical point. Saying "it's not the government's job" does not relieve us of responsibility to the hungry, homeless and truly needy. To the contrary, relieving the government of its so-called charitable functions puts added responsibilities on individuals and private charities - as is right and proper. Each of us needs to decide for ourselves what those responsibilities are. "The Lord loves a cheerful giver," and only we know the limits of our giving.

It is not the job of Washington, the state capitol or city hall to love our neighbors. Taxing for those purposes is wrong - but the hungry still need food, and the homeless still need a place to stay.

We are responsible as individuals for our personal and families' well-being. But sometimes we stumble and even fall - and when we see a brother or sister in need, we have an obligation. Oppress them and we show contempt for their maker. Be kind to them and we honor God.

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